I have no doubt that almost everyone reading this blog has a tottering ‘to read’ pile. 10,000+ children’s books are published annually so this isn’t likely to change any time soon. Educators are notoriously time poor, already juggling numerous professional roles with their personal lives. Although working from home has saved us travelling and waiting time, I wonder if it has actually helped this situation at all. For those who used to travel by train, I imagine their reading time will have been severely culled.
The digital delivery of showcases, award ceremonies, book launches and training offers more opportunities to attend events. And with events comes social media and more book recommendations and new contacts. An increased engagement with social media has so many advantages: it increases our knowledge of authors, titles, sequels, debuts, award winners. Our reading piles continue to grow in our quest to expand our knowledge and awareness of what we can recommend to our readers and, I hope, for our own pleasure too.
We are unashamedly guilty of adding to your ‘to read’ piles with everything we do here at Just Imagine:
Our training sessions always include a round-up of related titles.
The searchable reviews page on our website. For example a search term such as ‘refugees’ returns near on 20 results of top quality books for your classrooms.
Our reading resources Take One Book and Reading Gladiators™, focus on single titles, but each comes with a list of extended reading or recommendations.
Topple the tower
This mountain of reading matter provides us with a wide knowledge of books, which is of enormous value in itself. BUT there is no escaping the fact that deep knowledge comes from reading the books!
There are several methods that might help us tackle the tottering tower on our bedside tables. You may choose to scan the text, getting the gist of the story and gleaning enough to know who to recommend it to or how to use it in the classroom. You might read the first chapters and only continue if your engagement is aroused. These are valid approaches – you cannot read everything.
But if you have guilt about the ever increasing pile. Take these steps to redress the reading pile.
Step 1 A healthy mindset
Upgrade your belief system
Firstly, and probably the most important thing to do is acknowledge that you are never going to read all the books you want to. It is psychologically damaging to think otherwise. Accept that as fast as you are reading, authors are writing and your reading pile, like a bottomless glass, will perpetually refill. View this as a positive. Most readers keep a healthy stack of books next to their bed. Visualise this pile as a drip, constantly feeding your mind, stimulating your brain and giving your heart a healthy workout too.
Secondly, you could try a semantic approach. Try renaming the pile to ‘currently reading’, instead of telling yourself that you have to read these books and you are failing if the pile doesn’t get smaller.
Personally, I like the image of comparing the books to the children you teach. Each year a new group of children arrive in your class – you get to know them, you spend time with them, you have fun with them, you learn from them and then you say goodbye to them and welcome the next group of children, each with their own story, into your classroom.
Break it down into small manageable chunks. We are very good at advising children to foster this approach, we deserve to adopt this advice for ourselves. Small achievable goals can change feelings of guilt into satisfaction and accomplishment and more importantly a positive effect on our state of mind.
Step 2 A practical approach
The Japanese have a term for acquiring reading matter and letting it pile up unread – Tsundoku. You could employ the same approach as the wardrobe hackers tells us. If it is still sitting there in 6 months, do you really want to read it? I can hear the cries from here!
Instead, reduce your reading pile. Be selective – you do not have to read every recommended book. Just have three books in your pile. The rest can reside elsewhere for the time being, preferably out of immediate sight. You don’t want to be distracted from the task at hand by enticing cover designs, intriguing blurbs or testimonials telling you you ‘Must Read’. Your book pile is not an in-tray, it is a thing of beauty.
I am a big fan of bibliophile Damian Thompson’s Books Make a Home. Books are highly attractive collectables. They add personality to a room; have fun finding places for your ‘to read later’ pile. For instance, you might consider distributing your reading pile throughout your living space. Keep a few titles by your bed, a couple in your living space, one in the kitchen to read while waiting for water to boil or toast to pop up; one in the glove box of your car.
Reading is a superpower
Due to time lost as a result of the pandemic, many children are now facing the reality of trying to ‘catch up’ and be adequately prepared for the next step of their academic journey. That could be a a few weeks left at pre school before starting Reception or a term left before starting KS2 or just a few months before beginning their Secondary education.
The damaging term ‘catch up’ can have a similar effect as the ‘to read’ pile. We should be mindful not to make children feel that they are in any way ‘behind’, in fact words should be chosen very carefully. Moreover, an adult’s external voice can become a child’s internal voice. Instead you may choose to say ‘We are going to tackle this together’. ‘You are going to devour these books as you develop this new skill’.
If knowledge is power, reading is a superpower and you are all going to have this superpower and of course, we are talking about mind power here.
Reading piles of positivity
I remember Chris Brown from Gloucestershire, sharing a lovely anecdote with the Reading Teachers at our RTRP launch event, about stacking your ‘have read’ book pile after a year of attending the teachers book club sessions and gathering all the recommended reads from the shared notes. He measured the pile and was proud of the new height he had achieved.
Imagine turning your ‘to read’ pile into a ‘have read’ pile. Begin to see your book pile as a representation of achievement. A symbol of self congratulation, a reminder to pat yourself on the back and rejoice in the knowledge you are feeding your mind and increasing your book knowledge for your own benefit and that of your pupils.